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Israel charges suspect in West Bank teens' kidnap

Sept. 4, 2014 10:12 P.M. (Updated: Sept. 6, 2014 8:55 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- A prime suspect in the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank has been charged with organizing and financing the crime, Israeli security officials said Thursday.

The deaths, which Israel immediately blamed on Hamas despite Hamas' repeated denials, triggered a massive Israeli campaign across the the Palestinian territories including a devastating 50-day war in Gaza that killed more than 2,100 Palestinians.

Israel's internal security service Shin Bet accused Hossam Qawasmeh, who was arrested on July 11, of organizing the June 12 kidnapping and spending some 220,000 shekels ($61,300, 47,200 euros) on weapons and cars used in the crime.

According to the charge sheet seen by AFP, Qawasmeh was charged in a military court for "transferring enemy funds," carrying out services for an illegal organization (Hamas) and "deliberately causing the death" of the three Israelis.

The indictment noted that Qawasmeh had asked and obtained the money from his brother Mahmud, "a Hamas operative who had been expelled to Gaza."

The boys were shot almost immediately after their abduction, and their bodies were discovered on June 30 near to where they were snatched.

Critics said that despite knowledge of the youth's deaths, the Israeli government withheld the information for weeks as it engaged in a massive arrest campaign across the West Bank that led to the detention of more than 700 individuals unrelated to the crime, while leaving nearly a dozen dead and more than hundred injured in raids and ensuing clashes.

Qawasmeh's two suspected accomplices, Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Eisha, are still at large.

The Israeli army destroyed the homes of the latter two on July 1, a day after the teens' bodies were found, Palestinian witnesses said.

The army says the kidnapping was orchestrated by Qawasmeh, a senior Hamas militant who sent the other two, both of whom had a history of serving time in prison for their involvement in Hamas, to carry out the abduction.

Israel's massive arrests in the West Bank triggered an uptick in rocket fire from the Gaza Strip in response, setting the stage for an Israeli operation in Gaza.

Ma'an staff contributed to this report.
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